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Jesus in the Pulpit: He Welcomed Seekers
by Tom Goodman
March 3, 2005
I remember an old pastor’s advice when I was just starting out. He said, “Son, you have two jobs in the pulpit. Job Number One: Comfort the afflicted.” Then he paused for effect, smiled knowingly and added, “Job Number Two: Afflict the comfortable!”
The old man must have modeled his ministry after Jesus. In all your years of reading Scripture, have you ever noticed how often Jesus stepped on the toes of self-satisfied religious people and yet welcomed seekers? In too many churches, we do the opposite.
Jesus was the master communicator. Just as I want to imitate the way he lived, I also want to imitate the way he taught. How did Jesus preach?
Several weeks ago we began a LeaderLines series to answer that question. From my study of Scripture, I’ve identified at least five ways to describe his teaching:
o He was a topical preacher
o He was relevant
o He told jokes and stories
o He welcomed seekers
o He called for a decision
We’ve already looked at the first three points in previous LeaderLines. This week, let’s look at the fourth: Jesus welcomed seekers. Consider a few examples: Soldier seekers like the honorable centurion (Matthew 8), scholar seekers like the intellectual Nicodemus (John 3), sinful seekers like the woman of multiple partners in Samaria (John 4), moral seekers like the young man whom Jesus said was “not far from the kingdom” (Mark 12), and dying seekers like the thief on the cross (Luke 23).
Christ’s heart beat for seekers, so it’s astonishing whenever I hear someone who belongs to him speak negatively of attracting seekers. When someone is resistant to follow Christ in this work, I’ve found that their resistance is usually based in some unfounded fears.
What are we afraid of? For one, we fear that our church will water down Christian beliefs. Baloney. Jesus never did, and it seems to me he was pretty effective at reaching seekers. Those who are spiritually curious just need people who will take the time to explain the faith to them in terms they can understand. You have to meet them where they’re at before you can bring them to where they need to be.
Gifted teachers will pay attention to the interests, hurts, and prejudices of those they want to reach. What are their interests: film, music, sports, and so on? What are their hurts: frustrated with their finances, at their wit’s end with parenthood, looking for more meaning out of their work? What are their prejudices against Christ and Christians, and can we “do church” in ways that can correct those misconceptions right at the start so the gospel can get a hearing? Starting with these things doesn’t mean you’re shallow; it just means you’re attentive. Real missionaries look for these points of entry in the cultures we send them to. When did we ever get the notion that the process of outreach in Austin was any different than in Africa?
Here’s a second fear that lifelong Christians have about reaching seekers: Some of us fear that if our church starts working on reaching seekers then it will no longer be a church that meets “our needs.” More baloney. I was raised in a Christian home, saved at eight, called to preach at twelve, spent nine years in theological schools, and now spend most of my time in Bible study—all this and guess what? I really haven’t found much of a difference between “my needs” and the needs of the many seekers I’ve worked with.
Both Tom Goodman and my seeking friend need to hear more about God’s forgiveness and God’s call to be a forgiver. We both need marriage enrichment and better insights into parenting. We both need to learn more about Jesus. We both need to know about the power of the Spirit. We both have questions about heaven. We both have questions about prayer. We both need guidance on self-control. We both need real friends.
What’s more we both like a lot of the same movies, get our news from a lot of the same sources, cheer for a lot of the same teams, and listen to a lot of the same music.
In short, it’s not that hard to picture how a church can be meaningful to both you and the seeking friend you should bring.
There’s a little chorus we sing sometimes: